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LIBR 285
Research Methods

Dr. Geoffrey Z. Liu

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Research Critiques | Thesis Proposal

Research Critiques


No one is perfect, and nobody's research is perfect, even if it was already published in a top refereed journal. Throughout the semester, you are to write four research critiques, each on a published empirical research using a different type of research methodology. The four research critiques are: case study (CS), survey research (SR), qualitative research (QR), and experimental study (ES). The qualitative research critique can be either of a historical study, a grounded theory study, or a content analysis study. The other three are self evident.

Where to Find Your Targets

To write critiques, you may find articles that interest you from any research journal in the general fields of library and information sciences -- reading RESEARCH JOURNAL, not newsletters, not bulletins, not newspapers, not magazines, and not pop-science or pop-tech journals. It works best if the articles you found happen to be on the same research problem as you have chosen for your thesis proposal. Keep in mind that you need to have one article for each research method.

The U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement and the National Institute on Postsecondary Education, Libraries, and Lifelong Learning publishes executive summaries of research projects funded during the years of 1983-1997. If you follow THIS LINK, you will see a table (Table VA) that lists funded research projects, wth one column briefly describes what each research project is about and another column specifies what research method is used in the project. Armed with researchers' names and title keywords of their research, you can easily hunt down their corresponding research publications.

Nevertheless, I have rounded up some articles for each type of research method. You may choose one off this list to criticize if you have run out of time or just plain tired of hunting. Click on THIS LINK and it will take you there.

How to Approach

Once you have chosen a target piece, you will proceed to carefully read the article, not to look for spelling errors, but to critically examine how the researcher(s) defined the research problem, set up the overall research design, and handled the processes of data gathering, data processing, and data analysis. Although content presentation may be an issue worthy of commenting, your real focus should be on the research design and methodological issues. You will need to "see through" the article's wording to uncover the researchers' plan of design and what actually happened during the process of their research implementation. 

Based on a good understanding of uncovered essentials and armed with knowledge you have learned about reserach methods, you proceed to form critical opinions about the research, by asking reflective questions like below. (Note that the questions listed here are suggestive only and some may not apply to the study you are reviewing.)

Writing the Research Critique

Upon completion of critically examining the research, with notes handy and mind still fresh with ideas, you move on to write the critique draft. Write succinctly, accurately, and clearly, and avoid commenting on trivial and obvious things. Use the "header and footer" function to insert the course number, your last name, first initial, and page numbering within the top margine. Neither cover page nor abstract is needed. Use subheadings to mark sections, but do not break into separate pages. Avoid block quotes, tables, and figures, unless it's absolutely necessary. The maximum length is five pages, excluding references and appendix.

A sample critique is provided here to give you some idea of how your work should be like.

When submitting, include a PDF version of the original article.

Thesis Proposal


A fully developed thesis research proposal will be your final product/term paper for this course. You will have to write such a research proposal even if you are not going to do a thesis (LIBR299).

You are enouraged to start thinking about your thesis research as soon as the class starts. You may start with a fuzzy idea — a hunch — of what you are going to do, and continue to refine and expand the idea. I will periodically check on you and make you report to the class whatever progress you have made. The progress report may initially be brief and oral, and will gradually transform into a longer written form.

You do not have to submit any intermediate work toward your proposal. However, I strongly advice you to share your work with me as soon as it acquires a written form. Just so that I can make sure you are on the right track and going to the right direction, and more importantly, you can pick on my (who else's?) brain. Of course, some of you may consider this to be extra work for you. AND it carries NO points of credit. Nevertheless, you want to do this, believe me.

As usual like any term paper, your final proposal should be professionally prepared and well written. Knowing that it is ridiculous to impose a page limit, I would still ask you to be considerate and do not let the body of text go beyond 20 pages double spaced. On the other hand, if your work is only 10 pages long (in large fonts and including everything), it pretty much suggests that you haven't done enough thinking, and you would be in trouble.

Well, you got the idea.

Outline of Research Proposal

The proposal outline given below is only meant to be suggestive and illustrative. Not all sections/elements/points are required since some may not apply in your case. Do make necessary adjustments and changes in your own work.

  1. Introduction
    1. General description of interest area;
    2. Problem to be investigated;
    3. Significance of problem and justification;
    4. Feasibility.
    5. Content organization of the proposal.
  2. Literature review
    1. Historical background;
    2. Theory identified as framework for your research;
    3. Current research findings and gaps.
  3. Definition of Research Problem
    1. Definition of research problem and related concepts;
    2. Statement of major research question(s);
    3. Statement of minor research question(s);
    4. Statement of major research hypotheses;
    5. Statement of minor research hypotheses.
  4. Methodology
    1. Overall research design;
    2. Research population and sampling;
    3. Recruitment of research subjects;
    4. Construct operationalization & statistic hypotheses;
    5. Pilot study, instrument design and testing;
    6. Data collecting, extracting, and analysis.
  5. Execution Plan
    1. Identification of research site;
    2. Time table of accomplishing the research;
    3. Needs of facility/device/equipments;
    4. Estimation of expense and budget.
  6. Conclusion: Potential Contributions and Pitfalls
  7. References
  8. Appendices
    1. Measurement/data collecting instruments;
    2. Survey questionnaires;
    3. Cover letter;
    4. Illustrations etc.

Editorial issues

In addition to common criteria of good scholarly writing (such as formating, grammar, and spelling), your writing needs to comply with the following specific requirements.

A sample thesis research proposal is provided here to give you some notion of how the final product would be like.

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